Thursday , May 26 2022

The mystery of Anja Thauer, the greatest cellist you’ve never heard of | Music



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D.o do we hear music differently if there is a tragedy in the life story of its composer or performer? And if we do, do we offer that music with melancholy, or insight, and sometimes even grandeur, that’s not there?

Here are some thoughts I had while researching the well-known German cellist Anja Thauer for a BBC Radio 3 documentary, The Myth and Mystery of Anja Thauer. She was a extravagant child who went to the Paris Conservatoire in 1960 at the age of 15, won the Grand Prix, and immediately embarked on an international tour. Fame seemed inevitable. She was signed by Deutsche Grammophon, only in favor of the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who came to the label in 1968 and launched with the same piece that Thauer had just recorded and released – Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. This was her last album, although she was contracted to release two more, and continued to travel until her suicide in 1973.

The “myth” in the program title refers to how Thauer has managed to maintain a small place in the history of music – as an ultra-cult figure among record collectors in eastern Asia, who pays watery sums for original copies of his three albums. “A wonderful cellist gave her gift to the world. He shattered her. He became a legend in Japan. ”So read the inscription on a memorial plaque in the cemetery near Lübeck where Thauer’s urn is buried. He was placed there last year by an amateur musicologist named Hans-Joachim Köthe – a 90-year-old former notary public who has been a member of the Grand Lodge of International Druidism since 1958 and who has consecrated his retirement to find out more about Thauer.




Anja Thauer album cover that prompted an investigation into her life.



Anja Thauer album cover that sparked an investigation into her life.

Photographer: Klaus Zimmermann Deutsche Grammophon

The “mystery” refers to why Thauer’s work remains so little known elsewhere. Köthe has a theory – that her mother Ruth, a violinist who forged a career under the Third Reich, deliberately concealed her daughter’s legacy after her suicide. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support his assertion – Thauer’s musical papers, his “nachlass”, are not public – but no clear reason for Ruth’s actions. She died in 1990. The critic Tully Potter describes her as “captive, oppressive, exploitative even” and believes that “this is the absolute classic extravagance story … Anja, an only child, has never had the opportunity of adolescence normal. She seems to be very lonely. “Pianist Claude Françaix, who played with Anja in the 60s, says:” Her mother projected her own ambitions for a famous career … In some respects, Anja remained a child dominated by her mother. “

Thauer music is available digitally. In 2015, Deutsche Grammophon reissued his recordings – Anja performing Fantasie by Claude’s father, Jean Françaix, Third Cello Suite Reger, and Concerto Dvořák with the Czech Philharmonic, conducted by Zdeněk Mácal. Furthermore, the German label Hastedt Musikedition has done a great job over the past decade in uncovering previously unpublished radio recordings of all parts of her career. And yet, Thauer still has no Wikipedia page in English; only short writing in German uses the word love – love – in relation to her death. She had been having an affair with a married doctor in Wiesbaden, where she lived, and also killed herself, five days after her.

Little is known about their relationship, or who broke it. Some say he was the doctor, to save his marriage; others that Thauer’s mother insisted on ending. It’s another mystery in a complex and boring story, and has led to cellists fans and researchers turning to her music to try to gauge Thauer’s identity. About his Dvořák recording, Potter says: “I think I know almost every performance of Dvořák’s Concerto up to a certain point. She’s up in the top 10: the orchestra is wonderful, she’s completely inside it. She was a great player. ”Others voice different opinions. Julian Lloyd Webber thinks he is “pretty fit, but very playable”. German cellist Michael Schlechtriem says he loves a child but when he listened to it recently he found him “harsh” and “almost angry”. But he adds that Thauer is still spoken among cellists: “She is a little known as the German Jacqueline du Pré.”

There are unmistakable similarities between the stories of Thauer and Du Pré. Both were born in 1945, studied in Paris at the same time, and ended their careers in the same month – October 1973, with Thauer’s death and Du Pré’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. These coincidences have led to speculation of competition and theorizing that Thauer is overwhelmed by the male-dominated classical music scene by Du Pré fame. Not so, Elizabeth Wilson, Du Pré’s biographer and friend, said: “There are various reasons why they did not enjoy the same opportunities. One is that Du Pré began her career in London – the then world music center. The other thing we have to remember is that Du Pré’s career was based in Great Britain, but it was also very well known in America. ”

Thauer was not well known in the US – she never played there – but it is curious that she faded in oblivion while Jacqueline du Pré’s birthday profile put more gasoline on her already explosive myth.

With so little information about Thauer out there I also found myself looking for clues to her personality while playing. I didn’t hear interruption, or any kind of macabre foresight of her own fate. His Dvořák is surprisingly rowdy, and better for it. Recorded when she was 23, it is an explosion of youthful energy, joy and promise that conveys the highs and lows of a moment in time – the late 60s. His story is not about grandeur; it’s about “grandeur not being released”, as Potter says, and that’s the most devastating story of all.

  • The Myth and Mystery of Anja Thauer is on BBC Radio 3 on November 22 at 6.45pm and on BBC Sounds.

  • In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 and the domestic abuse helpline is 0808 2000 247. In Australia, the Lifeline crisis support service is on 13 11 14 and the national domestic violence counseling service at 1800 737 732. In the US, the suicide prevention rescue line is 1-800-273-8255 and the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found through www.befrienders.org

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